By Sui-Lee Wee
Angry young voters gathered in the Philippines on Tuesday to protest against Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the former dictator, who clinched a landslide victory this week in one of the most divisive presidential elections in the country’s recent history.
Multiple election observers said they had received thousands of reports of election-related anomalies since the vote Monday. Malfunctioning voting machines were one of the biggest concerns, with VoteReportPH, an election watchdog, saying the breakdowns had “severely impaired this electoral process.”
On Tuesday, Leni Robredo, Marcos’ closest rival in the race and the country’s current vice president, said her team was looking into reports of voter fraud. But every opinion poll before the election had predicted that Marcos would win by a huge margin, and his lead by Tuesday was so overwhelming that reports of fraud and malfunctioning machines were unlikely to sway the result.
Marcos, known by his childhood nickname, “Bongbong,” had racked up nearly 31 million votes by 4:30 p.m., according to a preliminary tally. That was more than double the number of votes Robredo had, giving Marcos the biggest margin of victory in more than three decades. Voter turnout was around 80%, an election official said Tuesday.
During his campaign, Marcos appealed to a public disillusioned with democracy in the Philippines, a country of 110 million and the oldest democracy in Southeast Asia. Yet for many Filipinos, the Marcos family name remains a byword for excess and greed, and a painful reminder of the atrocities committed by the father.
Marcos’ 92-year-old mother, Imelda Marcos, was sentenced to up to 11 years in 2018 for creating private foundations to hide her unexplained wealth, but remains free. She posted bail, and her case is under appeal by the Supreme Court. Critics fear Marcos could use the presidency to scrap that case and other outstanding cases against the family.
Dozens of mostly young voters gathered in a park across from the elections commission building Tuesday morning to protest the election results and Marcos, chanting, “Thief, thief, thief!” and “Put Imelda in jail.” Riot police stood watch over the demonstrations.
Paula Santos, a doctor in training, confronted the officers. “Personally, I am scared,” she told them. “I am turning 27 and I am scared for our future, especially now that I’m an adult. When I was young, I did not care about politics. But now I am having goose bumps because of fear.”
In the months leading up to the election, hundreds of thousands of Robredo’s young supporters had campaigned door to door, seeking to fight an online disinformation campaign that portrayed the violent Marcos regime as a “golden age” in the country’s history.
Santos told the officers that she had supported the younger Marcos when he ran against Robredo for the vice presidency in 2016 “because of the beautifully crafted posts and infographics I saw on YouTube.” “But then I saw other accounts, I did my research,” she said. “Knowing the truth is now in your own hands.”
“We’re not here to rewrite history,” she added. “We’re here to learn from it.”
In an interview later, Santos said that she and her 17-year-old sister cried on election night. Both of them had campaigned for Robredo. “I was expecting a close fight,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be such a big gap between numbers. It was hard to believe.”
Across the country, many voters shared in her disbelief.
Recrimination and regret prevailed among some Filipinos as they considered the possibility of another Marcos as president, 36 years after millions of their countrymen ousted the Marcos family for looting billions of dollars from the treasury.
Robert Reyes, a Catholic priest who spent every Wednesday for the past 11 weeks outside the elections commission building demanding a clean vote, said the Catholic Church had failed to “denounce evil.” The Catholic Church, which has outsize influence in the Philippines, played a crucial role in overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship during the 1986 “People Power” uprising.
“Hopefully this will wake up the church,” Reyes said. “Because what moral authority does the son of a dictator who has not returned what his father has stolen have? What authority does he have to govern a country whose people were plundered by his father?”
Robredo has stopped short of formally conceding the race. On Tuesday, she told her supporters to accept “whatever the final result will be.”
“I do not consider this a loss because we have achieved many things this election season,” she said, speaking during a Catholic Mass in Bicol Region, where she is from.
She has hinted at a bigger role for her broad-based movement, which she said “will not die at the close of counting.”
Vote counting could continue through the end of the week. By Tuesday afternoon, Marcos had yet to deliver a victory speech. But in a statement, Victor Rodriguez, Marcos’ spokesman, said his “unassailable lead” meant that “the Filipino people have spoken decisively.”
“To those who voted for Bongbong, and those who did not, it is his promise to be a president for all Filipinos,” Rodriguez said. “To the world, he says: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions.”
Sara Duterte, the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte and Marcos’ running mate, had garnered 31.5 million votes by Tuesday, more than triple the votes of Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who ran as vice president in support of Robredo.
Duterte has been accused of rolling back democratic institutions during his six years as president. Opponents have warned that the alliance between the Marcoses and the Dutertes could usher in a new era of autocracy in the Philippines.
Marcos and Duterte are expected to take office June 30.
As the protests continued outside the elections commission building Tuesday, demonstrators held up signs that said, “Never again,” and “Fight Marcos, reject Duterte.”
For Mirus Ponon, a first-time voter in Manila, Election Day was marked by excitement. The 20-year-old university student and civil rights activist stood in line for five hours to cast his vote for Robredo.
The euphoria did not last long. Several hours later, he was crying.
“You could see it coming from a standpoint of the structured propaganda and the machinery of the Marcoses,” he said. “But it’s something that makes you so depressed, as someone who loves the country. You want to continue to fight, yet the country and its people fail you.”